Thursday, October 18, 2007

THIN SPAGHETTI WITH WHITE CLAM SAUCE (Vermicelli Alle Vongole in Bianco)

When Guy and I got married in 1963, we ate pretty much the same things: pasta, steak, shrimp, pork roll, hamburgers, French Fries, etc. I never ate fruit. Instead I baked cakes and cookies and ate those. Fast forward to the present: Guy hasn't changed his eating habits much, but I have. I do eat fruit now, and I space my sweets. I still bake a lot, but I give it away or sell it. Some nights we can eat the same things, but then there are nights like tonight when I cook two separate meals. I had grilled salmon and tomatoed summer vegetables and he had thin spaghetti with white clam sauce and Caesar salad. Guy is a good chopper, so he chops everything, scrubs the clams and starts the grill. He also does dishes. I do everything else. I guess it's a pretty fair system, but cooking two meals at the same time can get very hairy. Tonight I actually managed to get the meals done at the same time, so maybe I am getting better at this. Could you call this multi-tasking? (P. S. For those who have never heard of pork roll, it is unique to Trenton, where Guy grew up. Taylor pork roll and Case's pork roll were the two brands, and Case's is out of business, but Taylor is still going strong. We can actually get some Taylor's down here in New Bern, but not in the big roll that Guy likes. FYI, it's about 98% fat, so of course it tastes wonderful as it clogs your arteries. The meat is cured, so in addition to clogging your arteries, it will also raise your blood pressure and fill you with carcinogenic nitrates. Bon appetit!)
Thin spaghetti with white clam sauce has many variations and there are plenty of recipes out there for it. We went to our local Ragazzi's (a southeastern Italian chain restaurant) a few years back and I ordered it. When it arrived, I was appalled -- it had a flour thickener in the sauce and it was full of mushrooms. I called the chef out and scolded him. I've ordered it a few times since then in other Italian restaurants and have always been disappointed and finally I've resigned myself to never ordering it out again because I'm never happy with it. Actually I'm kind of off pasta now anyway, trying to control carbs since I'm borderline diabetic. I do use the whole wheat-white mixed pasta but I still have to watch it. I've also gotten off clams since I found out that they are full of pollutants. Now I bet you can't wait for this recipe, (my version)which actually is quite delicious, so here goes:
Thin Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce (Vermicelli Alle Vongole in Bianco)
INGREDIENTS: 2 lbs. or more of fresh very small clams (Littleneck) (sometimes I use the
canned clams and clam juice in a bottle, and it's very good that way too)
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (I like Carapelli)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 - 1/2 cup dry white wine (good quality wine please)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp or more crushed red pepper (to your taste)
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 lb. thin spaghetti (or more if you like) (DeCecco, Barilla or Ronzoni)
sea salt to taste
DIRECTIONS: Scrub the clams and put aside. Throw away any that are cracked or broken. In a large frying pan or saute' pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion right away. Saute till transparent, then add the garlic. Saute for a minute or two (garlic burns more easily than onions--it has a higher sugar content), then add the clams, wine, and peppers. Turn the heat up and let it come to a boil for a minute or two to evaporate some of the wine. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium, so that it will continue to cook at a good pace and open up the clams. (Never, never add salt; the clams are already salty enough.)
Start a large pot (big enough so that the pasta can roll around with lots of room) of water on high heat, covered. When the water comes to a boil, add some sea salt. (I tend to undersalt, so use your best judgment on the amount you like.) Add the pasta. It only takes 6-7 minutes. In the meantime, do you hear the clams opening up? Get a big bowl and some tongs, and start taking out the clams that have opened up and put them in the bowl, then recover to let the others open. Continue to do this until all clams have opened. If there are any clams that are cracked or won't open, throw them out. When all clams have opened, put them in the oven (off of course) to sit till everything is ready. Watch the pasta and keep stirring it. Turn the heat up on the sauce the clams were in so you can reduce it slightly. Taste it. If it's very salty from the clams, don't reduce it too much because the more you reduce it the saltier it will be. This will be different with each batch of clams, that's why you have to taste. Of course, if you get farm-raised clams, they won't be as salty, but they also won't have much flavor. When you get the sauce the way you want it, turn the heat back down to low, add the parsley, put the clams back in, cover and let them sit a minute, then turn the heat off. Is the spaghetti done? Drain it and put it back in the pot with a little of the clam sauce. Stir it around, then put some in a dish and add some clams with more sauce. The sauce is runny, not thick. So what, it tastes wonderful. Why would anyone put flour in it to thicken it? No cheese, please -- let the flavor of the clams come through.

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